An evening with Ivor Tiefenbrun, founder of Linn

This past Thursday night Tom and Suzanne Unger graciously hosted Ivor Tiefenbrun at  Gifted Listener Audio in Centreville, Virginia along with about thirty of the store’s customers. The only “living member of the audio hall of fame” talked about how his experience as a young lad working in his father’s company and how that formed the foundations of his ‘fanaticism’ about hi-fi, which of course led to his own company, Linn. Their first product – the Sondek LP12 – sprung from an iconoclastic philosophy – that not only did the source matter, it was the most important part of the system: the garbage in, garbage out theory. Tiefenbrun developed this theory when he was dissatisfied that his first hi-fi, purchased soon after he married and moved into a new house devoid of most normal furnishings (understandable to all audiophiles), didn’t sound as good as his father’s. One experiment had him placing the turntable outside the room and remarkably he found that the sound improved. This flew in the face of the prevailing wisdom of the day, which perched loudspeakers at the top of the hierarchy when it came to system performance. He soon experimented with other ways to control vibrations from affecting the turntable and the rest is history.

I remember being a young lad myself (though memories are getting hazier with each passing day) and as a child of the mostly digital age, lusted after the Linn Sondek CD12, their masterwork in disc-based playback. Of course these days, digital streaming is making its mark on the public consciousness and Linn is right in the thick of it with some pretty impressive technical accomplishments, embodied in their latest music system on display that night. The primary system on demo was their more affordable Series 5 with the Klimax Exakt DSM feeding the 530 speakers. If you haven’t heard about the Exakt system, it’s a digital tour de force that combines software and hardware to reduce distortion and jitter to infinitesimally small levels – Tiefenbrun claimed that end-to-end jitter is an unbelievably low 4 ps! Their Space Optimisation technology finally lets the customer hear their system at its best, no matter how they place the speakers in the room or which room a system might be in. The Series 5 demo system sounded perfectly proportioned, neither warm nor clinical – simply right and wholly engaging. I’ve also had the pleasure of listening to the top-range Klimax Exakt system and it’s wondrous to behold in all its aesthetic and sonic beauty.

During the Q&A session, Tiefenbrun showed no signs of mellowing – calling out MQA (Meridian’s latest foray into digital production and compression) as a proprietary format that’s set to fragment the market further. He also possibly shocked some in the audience with his contention that digitally sampled music could sound just as good if not downright superior to vinyl playback. (At least half of those in attendance owned a Sondek LP12 of some vintage.) When asked whether digital volume controls were better than analog ones, he again proferred a practical, engineering-based answer – who’d want a control with channel imbalance issues that degraded over time? Tiefenbrun also showed no signs of slowing down, even half-jokingly asking the audience if anyone was headed back to Baltimore that night. The reason? That was his next destination and if he couldn’t hitch a ride, he’d have to Uber it. He consistently lit up the room with such self-effacing humor as well as his sharp intellect.

Linn seems to be on solid footing. If I were a Linn customer, past or prospective, I’d have walked away with the distinct impression that Linn is well positioned to support past products as well as research and develop future music systems and components fit for the 21st century and beyond. Ivor stated upfront that Linn is an “extreme precision engineering” company. After hearing him speak and listening to  Linn’s newest system, I have no reason to doubt it.

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